Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Death of Metaplace

Metaplace I'm sorry to hear that VR outfit Metaplace is closing down. At Peter Miller's suggestion, I recently tried Metaplace, and although it had big problems, in many ways it was well ahead of Second Life. This seems to close of any possibility of using VR for teaching in the foreseeable future. Shame.

Think of this as the first shutdown of 2010, not the last of 2009. There will be more (oh, here's the next one).


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I told you so

NPG pulls plug on Second Life

We need VR environments, but Second Life ain't it.

On the telly

Age of Stupid The family gathered round the glowing LCD screen last night and was treated to a few hours of rather informative television.

We kicked off with the Royal Institution Christmas lecture on More4. I'm sad that this has now been shunted to a ghetto channel. It was quite a blast from the past, not too flashy - all solid science. The economist and the historian kept up a running commentary suggesting lots of ways reality could be improved. The scientist just sat there and let it all flow over him. This year's lectures are available in the UK on 4OD.

We followed that up with Age of Stupid, which I hadn't seen before. It's relentless polemic, but effective. After a while, even the historian fell silent. At 3am, I was still awake. If you haven't seen Age of Stupid, you should.

Who says there's nothing on TV?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Location, Location, Location

Around this time of year bloggers get an irresistible urge to do a "year in review" post, or, god forbid, series of posts, to fill the booze-fueled hours between Christmas and New Year. I actually started thinking about my stocking filler back in September when I was musing about the highlights of the year and it occurred to me: I've been to some cracking locations this year. Among the highlights were:

June: Science Communication Conference 09 at King's Place, London
Kings Place

August: Science Online London 09 at the Royal Institution, London
Faraday Lecture Theatre

October: Future of Technology in Education 09 at the Royal Geographical Society, London

My statistical mind implores me to tell you that there was no correlation between the grandeur of the location and the quality of discussion...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

e-learning workshops #cfbweb2 #uolafwg

e-portfolios Today I won't be leading a workshop on e-portfolios at the University of Leicester's Assessment and Feedback Working Group meeting on e-Assessment (#uolafwg). Just as yesterday I didn't go to our Enhancing Learning Through Web2.0 (#cfbweb2) event. Because at 1 am yesterday morning I started vomiting, followed by further unpleasant symptoms (fever, aching, and Half Man Half Biscuit lyrics running on a constant loop in my delirious brain Oooooh, piccalilli shinpads).

But I do want to apologize for wimping out of these events with a limp-wristed excuse such as my inability to maintain an upright position for more than a few seconds. And I most definitely want to thank all the people who made #cfbweb2 such a success (as far as I could tell from the hashtag:
  • Sheryl and Terry for organizing the event
  • Kevin for coming up to Leicester and enthusing everyone about CiteULike
  • Jo for stepping into the breach and covering for me
and all the participants. I'm very sorry I missed you, but I hope to have lots of conversations with you online.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why I Love Marking History

RSS This week I've been marking the RSS component of our first year student PLEs. The students were asked to subscribe to RSS feeds (of their choosing) using Google Reader and share several items each week, with an explanatory note detailing why they chose each item and how it is relevant to their studies. (This forces engagement and stops random sharing.)

Marking has been surprisingly easy and quick using a simple set of criteria we have developed. One reason I like this assessment is because it promotes engagement with current science and doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator - the high fliers have something to get their teeth into (which is important in the first year curriculum).

In reality, the mark distribution is bimodal, something we've come to expect with our student cohort (particularly in year 1). However, I like this assessment because it's easy to see the students who are engaged. In our last minute, modularized, chickennuggetized educational system, it's difficult for most students to immerse themselves in a task which requires ongoing commitment over weeks or months. Since the pattern of sharing is recorded, there is no place to hide. Even the boffs feel obliged to chuck in a last minute burst of activity, but this doesn't skew the marking at all since the full history of the assessment is transparent.

I'll almost be sorry to see this assessment go next year, but the ever more ponderous Google account admin means that we plan to dump it in favour of Friendfeed (subject to satisfactory trial next term) - where the history of engagement is similarly exposed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's the catch?

> Dear Sir,
> I found your Short Communication Podcasting is Dead. Long Live Video!
> most interesting giving helpful ideas for my own project - to create
> videocasts or screencasts about the basics of materials science. The
> paper gave me many good answers to questions like can I use some kind
> of puppet or is it too condescending. I also visited web page where
> your videos are, It seems that your idea about useful video for
> education is similar compared to ideas I have been thinking.
> There is one thing which concerns me quite a lot. Here I would like to
> cite your paper. Although seemingly effortless, the production of
> successful online videos is a highly-skilled process, requiring an
> understanding of user psychology and behavior, which is quite
> different from that of television viewing? I guess here you hit the
> point. I can apply a wide variety of pedagogical models and
> technological gadgets, but if the students don't find the result
> catchy, all my efforts are more or less in vain. While reading your
> paper I got the feeling that you have struggled with this problem
> quite a lot. So I would like to make a question: How to make catchy
> videocast for education? I am not expecting comprehensive answer but
> all ideas, hints, links or names of interesting articles and books are
> most welcome.
> I think the key element is something I would like to call the rhythm
> of the video, but what is the proper rhythm for 18-20 years old
> students.

I think there are many different answers to your question. Much depends on
who the video is intended for, but in my opinion, a good video should
reflect your own persona - in that way it is more likely to assume our
authentic voice and more likely to be effective.

I would experiment with a range of styles and techniques and find which work
best for you.

Dr Alan J. Cann, Department of Biology,
Adrian Building, University of Leicester,
University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Preaching to the choir

Gartner Hype Cycle v2 It seemed like a simple idea back in September when I pitched it to the HEA Centre for Bioscience: an event aimed at the novice to moderate user of Web2.0 tools. After discussions, the outcome was the Enhancing Learning Through Web2.0 (#cfbweb2) event we are running on Wednesday, so we rolled out the publicity. And after a while, people signed up, which was nice.

The only trouble is, the majority of people who have signed up ain't exactly novices. Which raises a few problems:
  1. How do we get the phobes to engage?
  2. Should we try to get the phobes to engage, or just let them play with themselves?
  3. How do you bootstrap a culture of sharing in an academic community?
  4. How do we use this technology to achieve cost savings?
  5. How do we get policy makers to engage with these technologies as residents?
If we talk about some of these on Wednesday, I'll be happy, but not as happy as if we come up with some ways forward.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Call for Papers - ALT-C 2010

altc2010 Last week the Association for Learning Technology published the guidelines for abstracts and for papers for the 2010 conference: ALT-C 2010: 'Into something rich and strange' - making sense of the sea-change. ALT-C 2010 will take place in Nottingham, England, 7-9 September 2010.

*Keynote speakers*
  • Welcoming keynote from Saul Tendler, the University of Nottingham's Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, and Professor of Biophysical Chemistry.
  • Barbara Wasson, Professor of Pedagogical Information Science at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen, Norway.
  • Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University.
  • Donald Clark, Board Member of Ufi, and former CEO of Epic Group plc.
You will be able to submit proposals for inclusion in the conference programme from mid-December 2009, until 15 February 2010. In preparation for this please find below an overview of the conference, including links to all the relevant documents, along with details of relevant deadlines.
*Key dates*
Proposals for inclusion in the programme will be accepted between mid December 2009 and 15 February 2010.
Bookings will open in early May.
Presenters' booking deadline: 28 June 2010.
Earlybird booking deadline: 5 July 2010.
Bookings close: 13 August 2010.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

'Tis the season

...when we get sufficiently guilty about asking the undergraduates to map out their personal learning environments that we feel obliged to do ours too. Jo blogged about the evolution of her PLE yesterday, so here's mine, or at least, the best representation of it I can come up with on any particular day:


Multiple presentations next week, so is currently working overtime ;-)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Google Docs

Google Docs

It's Google Docs day week month here at Casa Mia. I'm working with colleagues in Leeds and across the road on a series of documents relating to a meeting we are organizing for next week. At the same time, I'm participating in the altc2010 meeting I didn't make it to in London today via another document. And student work (essays and presentations) is still tricking in from assessments run earlier this term. And I if find the time, I'll be putting together two joint presentations using Google Docs for the meeting next week.

So the question is, is Google Docs now so firmly embedded in my working practices that I couldn't live without it?

No. If it went away (or started charging more than a nominal fee), we'd simply move on a congregate round one of the other web office suites that are out there (and don't forget, Microsloth Office online, coming to an everywhere near you, soon).

Redundancy - essential (in this context).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Good science?

Abstract: Choosing good problems is essential for being a good scientist. But what is a good problem, and how do you choose one? The subject is not usually discussed explicitly within our profession. Scientists are expected to be smart enough to figure it out on their own and through the observation of their teachers. This lack of explicit discussion leaves a vacuum that can lead to approaches such as choosing problems that can give results that merit publication in valued journals, resulting in a job and tenure.

How To Choose a Good Scientific Problem. 2009 Molecular Cell 35(6): 726-728

This paper was widely discussed a month ago in the online science groups I frequent, but I've only just got round to reading it. How depressing there is no "public good" element included, it's totally self-absorbed :-(

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Baby Jesus? My Arse! #bahumbug

bahumbug It's only a few days old, but I'm quite pleased with the way my #bahumbug campaign is going. Argos started it, but I was also inspired by the Stop the Cavalry! group on Facebook. I've already been invited to set up an Antichristmas grotto, dressed as Dark Santa. Still, to add a little more depth to the campaign, occasionally I feel the need for slightly more that 140 characters, so I've decided to add the odd blog post giving those old Xmas favourites a #bahumbug twist. Here's the first one:
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Cancer growing in your bowels

Xmas songs being sung by a choir

All dressed up like Simon Cowells
And another:
Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Tra la la la la la la la la
Quantitative easing stole all your money
Tra la la la la la la la la
Don we now our gay apparel
Tra la la la la la la la la
Graham Norton's version of A Christmas Carol
Tra la la la la la la la la
And to finish off (for now):
Hark! the herald angels sing
Jeremy Clarkson's going to be King
Queen popped her clogs during Christmas message
Charles convicted of matricide
Joyful all ye nations rise
Richard Hammond's Morrisons ads win prize
With the angelic host proclaim
Top Gear's on TV again
Hark! the herald angels sing
All bend down kiss Clarkson's ring

Friday, December 04, 2009

Rethinking CiteULike

I'm getting my teaching materials ready for next term (online undergraduate journal club via CiteULike):

When I originally thought about using CiteULike for this, I had in mind setting up groups for each degree stream, but having played around with CiteULike groups some more this week, and bearing mind the success of our social bookmarking project (over 1500 bookmarks for a first year biochemistry module so far this term), groups feel like an unnecessary encumbrance. A lightweight approach seems much more feasible, so degree-specific tags it is, also taking advantage of one of the best features of CiteULike, RSS everywhere. I don't feel that groups would add much to this exercise. Would the students really spend as much time on CiteULike as they do in Facebook, populating the group forums and debating science? I think not.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Prohibition I've been very disappointed with Danah Boyd's recent output. Whether this has any connection with her taking the Microsoft shilling or not is hard to say. When she recently gave (by her own admission) a bad talk at a conference, the backchannel gave her some feedback. She didn't like it.

And again there's talk of restricting the backchannel.

Give it up, it won't work. Stephen Downes has it right. Prohibition doesn't work. If you don't participate in the conversation, you lose your vote.

E-Assessment: Warts and All #uolafwg

E-assessment E-Assessment: Warts and All
17th December 2009 9.30am-3.00pm #uolafwg

The University’s Assessment and Feedback Working Group is holding its second annual workshop day, to examine both the possibilities afforded by e-assessment as well as potential problems and pitfalls. How does e-assessment allow teachers to better manage assessment workloads, and how can it support and enhance student learning? At the same time, we need to understand the limitations and pressure points of e-assessment, what to be wary of, and what to steer clear of.
The day is designed around a judicious mix of workshops and plenary presentations and discussions, so that individuals and departments can explore a range of opportunities they might want to follow up.
The programme presents a rich mix of work being undertaken in the University alongside presentations by national experts and invited presenters. Subject matter will include:
  • The use of e-portfolios
  • An on-line tool for negotiating peer assessment of group work
  • Using aural feedback to aid student learning
  • Using e-assessment comprehensively in a distance learning setting
  • Analysing the state of play in e-assessment
  • E-assessment futures... where we may go next
The programme for the day can be obtained from the Staff Development Centre website. To register for the day, e-mail:

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The (Post)Digital Researcher

British Library I spent Monday at the British Library in a meeting arranged by Vitae, the RCUK funded career development organization for postdoctoral researchers and research staff in higher education institutions and research institutes. We were talking about training the digital researcher, although to my surprise and delight, the conversation turned postdigital pretty quickly.

On 15th March 2010 Vitae and the BL will be running a joint event which aims to take on the daunting task of attempting to convince researchers of the value of social tools. Why daunting? Well although we'll only get the researchers who have not been prevented from attending by skeptical supervisors, I still expect to encounter a fair amount of doubt, which I did my best to point out yesterday, in part by tossing a copy of Communicating Chemistry. Nature Chemistry, 1 (9), 673-678 (01 December 2009) on to the table. I don't accept all the arguments in this paper that chemistry is a special case - every discipline claims special status, and while each has different circumstances, the problems are essentially cross-disciplinary, but it was useful to make the point at Monday's meeting.
Some chemists point out that academia produces two vital inputs for the chemical industry, trained PhD-level scientists and published scientific results, without proper compensation. Industrial researchers read the scientific literature but they publish only sparsely themselves, because their careers do not depend on it, and to keep their research strategies and goals secret from competitors. This may explain why some academic chemists are particularly sceptical of present proposals for open-access business models, as they feel that industry would profit inappropriately.
It'll be an interesting few months ahead while we plan out our strategy. Stay tuned for more details.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Enhancing Learning Through Web2.0 #cfbweb2

logo Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Medical Sciences Building, University of Leicester

Web2.0 technologies continue to grow, both in diversity and usage and have the potential to impact all areas of learning. How can a bioscientist navigate the technologies of Web2.0 and why should you bother? The Centre for Bioscience would like to bring together examples of Web 2.0 which enhance student learning or academic scholarship. The day will advocate useful approaches rather than advocating particular programmes and be aimed at the novice to moderate user of Web2.0 tools.

Follow and contribute to this event on Twitter at #cfbweb2.

10.00 Registration; Tea and Coffee
10.20 Welcome and Introduction to the day
10.30 Overview and workshop of Web2.0 tools: develop a foundation of Web2.0 technologies through discussions and activities to explore the power and many possibe applications of Web2.0 tools to teaching and learning activities.
12.15 Lunch
13:00 Citeulike, Kevin Emamy, Citeulike
This session is in conjunction with the University of Leicester College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology lunchtime seminar series.
14.00 Showcase: Examples of HEIs/Departments/Groups using Web2.0 to improve learning and teaching
14.45 Refreshments
15.00 Swapshop Session: short informal presentations offered by delegates
15.30 Centre Focus on Web2.0
15.45 Discussion & Reflection
16:00 Depart

Global Health Delivery 2.0: Using Open-Access Technologies

In the Magazine section of this week's issue of PLoS Medicine, Duncan Maru and colleagues at Nyaya Health in Achham, Nepal, highlight the problem of transparency and operations research in the growing field of global health delivery in resource limited settings. Their organization implemented several simple Web 2.0 strategies while delivering medical and public health services in rural Nepal. Drawing on this experience, the authors describe how Web 2.0 technologies including software that allows for rapid, Internet-based collaboration among multiple users can improve transparency among organizations participating in global health delivery. The platforms include quantitative outcomes data and logistics protocols on a wiki; an open-access, online de-identified patient database; geospatial data analysis through real-time maps; a blog; and a public line-by-line online budget. The authors emphasize that such strategies have recently been deployed extensively in resource-rich areas, but have not yet been implemented widely in resource-limited settings, where they would prove effective.

Maru DS-R, Sharma A, Andrews J, Basu S, Thapa J, et al. (2009) Global Health Delivery 2.0: Using Open-Access Technologies for Transparency and Operations Research. PLoS Med 6(12): e1000158. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000158